The two Twitter users who were arrested in Mexico for “terrorism” have been freed and the charges against them dropped.
34-year-old Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola (@maruchibravo) and 48-year-old Gilberto Martinez Vera (@gilius_22) were two of many who retweeted a rumor that narco gangsters were killing children at a school. They were subsequently taken into custody by security forces and charged with “terrorism.”
Although this particular story turned out to be an unfounded rumor, it was an outgrowth of the bankruptcy of the Mexican press and the role Twitter has assumed in response, as outlined by Andrés Monroy-Hernández in his article for ReadWriteWeb, “Shouting Fire in a Crowded Hashtag.”
“Newspapers and TV stations are caught in a battle between censorship, control and threats from the drug cartels and the local governments… Since the mainstream media no longer fulfill its role of informing citizens about these events, people have turned to social media. Twitter in particular…”
The governor of Veracruz state said, on his own official Twitter account:
“We have identified today’s misinformation sources, I want inform that this will have legal consequences according to Article 311 (terrorism)”
Whether the impulse two arrest these two came more from a legitimate desire to stem a tide of panic (though panic based on real problems) or from some murky intersection of go along to get along with the drug cartels is beyond me. But given the context – Twitter has become the only way for people in the drug-ridden areas of Mexico to find largely reliable news – the government should have known better.
Even if they didn’t known better, they should at least have anticipated the level of contemptuous mocking that would ensue, with Twitter users across the country satirically calling themselves “Twitteroristas.”
Veracruz littoral photo by Dany Rivera